Law enforcement reform bills advance in Olympia

A series of bills aiming to restrict a police officer’s use of force is moving through the legislature in Olympia.

Among them is House Bill 1054, which passed through the Senate on Tuesday. The legislation would standardize some law enforcement tactics, including when police can deploy tear gas or subdue a suspect using a chokehold.  

Multiple other proposals are also being debated by lawmakers. Many are aimed to hold police officers accountable for their actions. Many of the bills are sponsored by grassroots organizations which are often comprised of families that have lost loved ones due to a police officer’s lethal force.

 In many cases comprised of families who have lost loved ones to lethal force

"One of the most positive people you’ll ever meet in your life," Danielle Bargala Sanchez said of 23-year-old Renee Davis, a woman she considere d her sibling.  

Davis was a single mom and expecting another child when she died almost 5 years ago. King County Sheriff’s Deputies shot and killed her in October 2016.

Police were performing a welfare check after loved ones worried Davis had become suicidal. While officers did not know the handgun Davis was holding was unloaded when they confronted her, deputies both fired their guns in defense killing her.  

Her death is why Sanchez organizes for Washington Coalition for Police Accountability, and why she pushes for new legislation aimed at holding law enforcement accountable for fatal encounters with members of the public.

"The reality is it’s happening right next door including in Washington state," Sanchez said.

Lawmakers continue debating Senate Bill 5051, which modifies background requirements for those looking to become peace officers, and alters certification and decertification processes among other specifics.

The senate is also hearing House Bill 1267, which would create an office of independent investigations that would provide oversight and independent reviews of police use of force incidents. On Tuesday, HB 1054 was passed out of the Senate and now heads back to the house to debate new amendments. The legislation, among other things, mostly prohibits officers from using chokeholds and neck restraints, restricts when and how tear gas can be deployed and eliminates no-knock search warrants.

A number of law enforcement groups have criticized the bill, and so have some republicans in Olympia who worry the bill might force cops to overthink during crisis.  

"Do they really make our communities safer, and do they make officers less safe on the streets," asked Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber.

"The bill we saw last night takes away needed things from law enforcement," added Sen. Shelly Short.

State GOP leaders believe the rigorous debate has pushed multiple similar bills more towards a central position.

"If the minority was unwilling to do their job, we’d be left with bills that are unsafe and unworkable," said Rep. J.T. Wilcox.

"Everybody has to realize they can be the next person," Sanchez continued.

For people like Sanchez who lost a loved one to police gunfire, she refuses to let Davis’ death mean nothing.

"Her death is not in vain," she said. "She’s seeing change take place."

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